Wednesday’s 62-61 win over Minnesota was huge for Nebraska not just from a record standpoint, but from a mental and confidence standpoint as well. Coach Tim Miles said he wasn’t worried about his players quitting, but one can only suffer so much defeat before lasting damage takes hold from a mental standpoint.
“I believe the guys are in a good spot,” Miles said. “As a coach, you worry about them losing hope. Nobody’s going to quit. Nobody truly quits as a college athlete. Now, you may have a bad outcome — we’ve seen football teams, basketball teams get blown out. But usually that’s because they lose hope. If they’re there working every day, they’re working very hard. What happens is if you don’t believe in yourself and have that confidence… I think you saw a group that, ‘I see a path where we can still be a viable team and make the postseason.’ I think thats important because you don’t want to lose that.”
The Huskers reminded themselves that they can win, and they’ll look to carry that over to Saturday’s game against Northwestern.
Miles gave the team Thursday off from the wear and tear of practice, opting instead for a film-only day, but the Huskers got back in the gym on Friday and Miles stressed the importance of attention to detail as they prepare for the Wildcats (12-12, 3-10 Big Ten).
“Chris Collins has done a wonderful job there,” Miles said. “I think they’ve played well even though they haven’t won. Watching that Iowa game, how impressive Vic Law was and the entire group, Ryan Taylor’s a big-time scorer, AJ Turner does a good job, Dererk Pardon as we well know. Coach Mo [Jim Molinari] said the other day, ‘You know, Pardon’s first college game he had 20 rebounds.’ ‘You know, that was against us; I don’t know if you were even here, Mo.’ So I remember it. We know how dangerous they are.”
Law, a 6-foot-7 senior wing, is leading the Wildcats at 15.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game while Pardon, the 6-foot-8 senior center who has had big games against Nebraska in the past, is contributing 13.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Evansville transfer Ryan Taylor is the only other Wildcat in double figures at 11.5 points per game but he’s only shooting 34.6 percent from 3 where most of his attempts come from. Boston College transfer AJ Turner is chipping in 8.4 points and 3.1 assists but is only shooting 37.4 percent from the field.
“The biggest difference with Northwestern is without Bryant McIntosh they don't really have that playmaking guard, but they have a lot of long wings that can really shoot it and they defend very well,” Miles said. “I think it will be a tough ball game. I think it will be a tight ball game and it will be one worth watching.”
Miles has a former Northwestern coach on his staff in first-year assistant Armon Gates, but Miles said he wasn’t really planning on leveraging Gates’ knowledge for game plan purposes.
“I don’t really go there just out of respect,” Miles said. “He knows those guys, and he’s out recruiting today anyway so he better be very good for us. It’s just I think, one of those things where you do play another team, certainly you know them but there’s always chalk, there’s point, counterpoint, this, that. So I think you can almost do yourself harm by trying to say ‘What are their go-to plays here?’ We see what they do and I think that’s the most important part.”
The game will be part of Legends Weekend as Nebraska welcomes nearly 50 former players back to Lincoln to celebrate their contributions to the program over the years.
“Welcoming back our legends is just a huge part of what we do,” Miles said. “I remember when I went to Southwest Minnesota State they had an alumni weekend, and right away I thought ‘Oh, what a pain int he butt.’ And then you see how it can be so good for a program, so we took it to NDSU then we took it to CSU and now we’ve brought it here.
“I just think that connection, that ability to pay it forward — we had a situation where we showed Jordan Murphy turning into Isaiah Roby on film and Brandon Ubel was in the film room with us. But when I say turning, it looked like he was beheaded twice, and if you slow down the film you’ll see what I’m talking about in the second half. Brandon Ubel brought up a point, he was like Isaiah, you might have felt bad because you had five turnovers, but you have to understand the amount of energy you’re expending to stop a high-level player like him one-on-one, telling us ‘Nope, don’t bring a double any more, I think that’s screwing with us more than we need it to, I can handle him.’ You need to be able to accept you're going to be a little less going on offense. Really, I thought, good advice. It was wisdom that Brandon’s been in that, he’s taken those blows from [Derrick] Nix and all those guys at Michigan State so he understands that and I think it’s just priceless when it comes to stuff like that.
“Having those guys around in whatever capacity. Brian Carr has been great to us; he’s been at IU and at Purdue. Dave Hoppen was there the other night, Beau Reid’s been great, Andy Markowski. I can go on and on and on about guys that have really come back and given their time. I wish everybody would. I want every graduate to feel — and I’d even so you don’t even have to like me, but at least come back and let us support you, let us recognize what you have done and be a part of the program because it’s an everlasting experience in my book.”
In the win over Minnesota, Nebraska got some quality contributions off the bench with six points, five rebounds and 21 total minutes between three players.
“I thought that the guys who could contribute were confident and did a very good job in terms of Brady [Heiman] coming in, Amir [Harris] and Thor [Thorbjarnarson], I thought they did a very good job and they’re going to be the guys we run out there right away again tomorrow.”
Sophomore wing Nana Akenten dressed but did not play against the Gophers after missing the previous two days of practice with an illness, but Miles said he went through a workout on Thursday and was set to participate in practice on Friday. Miles said he would expect the sophomore to be “full-go.”
Tipoff at Pinnacle Bank Arena is set for 7:45 p.m. CT on Saturday. Kevin Kugler and Stephen Bardo will have the call on BTN.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.